First, there were five and now there are ten gray hairs in the front of my hairline, just waiting for more to arrive at the party. I kid you not — I thought the gray hair along my hairline was lint. I tried to get it out for longer than I’d like to admit before I realized what had happened: My once dark brown hair had begun its transition to gray.
For so many, gray hair is synonymous with getting older, the hands of time passing, and feeling wholly unprepared for the change. As you age, your chances of getting gray hair increase. After 30, people’s chances of getting gray hair increase 10%-20% every decade afterward. By the time you reach 50, your chances of getting gray hair increases to 50%. But some people in their 20s and 30s have gray hair.
Thirty-six-year-old Amber, who lives in Maryland, says, “I have considered going gray for a while. I’ve been prematurely graying since high school. My mom told me that it was hereditary. I started coloring my hair around the same time and I guess I sort of just committed myself to a lifetime of routine, expensive hair appointments at the salon. Felt like that until early 2020. I had gotten to the point where I was dedicating so much time and energy is trying to conceal the inevitable. I started to let my color grow out pre-pandemic and then once I was working from home 100% I decided to fully commit to transitioning. Figured since I had nothing but time on my hands and I wasn’t being seen by many people — why not! “
Photo cred: @AJGoesGray
There are many causes of our hair turning gray, including the decrease of melanin in the hair, genes, your health, the environment, and yes, even stress. But, how does your hair even turn gray? One article from Penn Medicine explains, saying one “reason your hair may turn gray is related to its chemical processes. The cells in your hair naturally produce a small amount of hydrogen peroxide. Normally, an enzyme called catalase breaks down the hydrogen peroxide into water and oxygen.”
Photo cred: @AJGoesGray
“However, as you get older, you produce lower amounts of catalase, which allows the hydrogen peroxide to build up. This buildup can damage the pigment-producing cells, leading to gray or white hairs. In women, graying usually begins right around the temples and then moves toward the top of the scalp. As it gets lighter, it may eventually turn white. Your body and facial hair may also turn gray — but often later than the hair on your head.” We can’t stop the hands of time. We can’t fight the aging process. Once it finds you, lean into it.
Photo cred: @AJGoesGray
At some point, we will all turn gray. If it’s sooner rather than later, the question is whether you’ll fight it (and dye it) or roll with it; it is what it is. Each day, I’m finding myself leaning into my gray hairs more and more. The pandemic helps me lean into it too. While most hair salons across the country have reopened, some don’t feel safe going into them — therefore the grays stick around. For a lot of people, the pandemic made them reconsider their commitment to the tedious routine of having their grays covered.
“Logistically, during the height of the pandemic I couldn’t get my hair professionally colored if I wanted it,” Amber notes. “Personally, my hair was less of a priority for me during the pandemic. It felt vain to worry about my next color, cut, and style when so many people were losing their lives to COVID-19. I also spent a lot of time alone during the pandemic and reflected a lot about what was and wasn’t a priority in my life and let go of the things that no longer served me.” Her dutiful covering of grays, she says, was just one of those things.
Maura Judkis wrote in The Washington Post about choosing to go gray during the pandemic: “I was 34. I wouldn’t look old, he [her husband] reassured me. My face was young. I still got carded regularly, though I knew the gray would put an end to that flattery. Maybe the young face/old hair combination would be dissonant enough to pull off in a way that made it seem like a capital-C Choice, like mom jeans. Maybe I would like it. Maybe I wouldn’t rush back to the salon as soon as it reopened.”
The thing about gray hair is that to get rid of it, to hide it, to pretend that it’s not there takes work. Who has time for extra work? Not me. Even though I don’t have many gray hairs yet, I can’t see myself trying to cover them up anytime soon.
We handled a lot of shit during the pandemic. On top of everything else, some of us became our household’s barber and hairdresser. In varying degrees, we were all made to feel okay, if not comfortable, with stepping outside of our comfort zone when it came to personal appearance. The pandemic allowed some people to embrace the parts of themselves they had previously seen as flawed. Being comfortable with one’s hair color, letting those roots show, and saying “heyyyy” to the gray hairs that pop up like those frogs in that game at Chuck E. Cheese.
It’s all relative. Hair dye can only help people feel a sense of comfort for so long, and then it fades and the gray hairs reappear. They were there before the hair dye, so why not embrace it? Ask yourself, who are you coloring your hair for? Is it you? Is it for your self-esteem? Is it to keep up a facade that your hair is not getting gray?
Like you lean into the body aches, the changing breasts, the random chin hairs, the changing menstrual cycles, lean into the gray hairs. Embrace them, and make the best of what’s happening to you, pandemic-style.